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Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment

Pelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (D-Calif.) sought Wednesday to prevent the trickle of Democratic impeachment supporters from becoming a wave. 

During an emergency closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, Pelosi didn't broach the topic directly and instead gave the floor to a handful of committee chairs who back her methodical approach. 

“My message was: stay the course we're on,” Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene Cummings'Kamala' and 'Kobe' surge in popularity among baby names Women of color flex political might Black GOP candidate accuses Behar of wearing black face in heated interview MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said after the meeting.

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Other lawmakers suggested the caucus remained largely behind Pelosi’s approach, despite the statements in recent days from members backing the beginning of an impeachment inquiry.

“It's clear what her view is, and at the moment I would say the caucus is willing to be led on that issue,” Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyIRS closes in on final phase of challenging tax season Virginia voter registration website back up after outage on last day to register Judge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes MORE (D-Va.) said of Pelosi. 

Some sharp Trump critics — like Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDemocrats express concerns about IRS readiness for next year's filing season Obama hits trail to help Biden, protect legacy Trump's COVID-19 case draws new attention to handling of pandemic MORE (D-N.J.), who's been pushing to get the president's tax returns — are on board Pelosi’s approach.

Pascrell spoke out during the closed-door session to note that recent court rulings have sided with the Democrats' requests for information, and more are likely to follow with similar verdicts. 

“At this particular point I think the Speaker is absolutely correct,” Pascrell said. “Richie Neal and his methodical approach I think is absolutely correct,” he added, referring to the Ways and Means Committee chairman. 

Outside the meeting, Pelosi accused President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE of being involved in a cover-up, a tough rhetorical line that sends a signal to lawmakers that she takes White House stonewalling of congressional investigations seriously.

“We do believe that it is important to follow the facts, we believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Pelosi told reporters.

The Speaker then set out for a meeting with Trump and other congressional leaders on infrastructure. The meeting was abruptly ended by Trump, who expressed anger that Democrats were investigating him, and anger specifically at Pelosi over the cover-up remark.

“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump said in comments from the White House Rose Garden after the abbreviated meeting. He also said he would not work with Democrats on policy until they ended their investigations.

Pelosi’s remarks could also give ammunition to those arguing that it’s time for an impeachment inquiry. 

“There's ample evidence that we should be having this debate in Congress and before the American people,” said Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonTrump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes Overnight Defense: Congress recommends nuclear arms treaty be extended | Dems warn Turkey | Military's eighth COVID death identified Bipartisan congressional task force recommends extending nuclear treaty with Russia MORE (D-Mass.). “His campaign chairman is in prison; don't tell me there's not enough to debate here.”

Pressure on Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings intensified after former White House counsel Don McGahn disregarded a subpoena and refused to appear before Congress on Tuesday, and after GOP Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashEnergized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Ocasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones MORE (Mich.) came out in favor of impeachment.

Connolly acknowledged “some discussion” on the recent push to launch an impeachment inquiry into the president. “But that's not where we are this morning,” he added.

The White House stonewalling has sparked a new round of Democratic defectors from Pelosi's no-impeachment position. Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroFormer DNC finance chairman Henry Muñoz: Latinos 'need to lead ourselves' Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches House Democrats push forward on probe of Pompeo's political speeches MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is one of them. He described a cordial debate in Wednesday's meeting. 

“Some people have said that they're ready to start an impeachment inquiry — not an impeachment vote, but an impeachment inquiry — and others said they're not quite there yet,” Castro said. “And it was a collegial debate. ... Nobody was screaming at each other.”

Rep. Juan VargasJuan C. VargasHispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs Hispanic Caucus asks Trump to rescind invitation to Mexican president MORE (D-Calif.) is also urging impeachment hearings to begin immediately, arguing it's the surest — and quickest — way for the committees to obtain the information Trump is withholding. 

“We should start the impeachment process. I think it gets us to a place where we can get this information, and then frankly be able to make a determination,” he said.

“By the time the courts decide, I think I'll have grandchildren,” he continued, “and my daughters aren't married."

The other committee heads who spoke during the meeting were Neal and Reps. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.), of the House Judiciary panel; Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersCompanies start responding to pressure to bolster minority representation Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt MORE (D-Calif.), of the House Financial Services Committee; and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (D-Calif.), of the Intelligence Committee. 

Some Democrats, while not yet advocating for impeachment, say they are moving closer.

“Inch by inch, yard by yard ... with every new point of resistance ... people are saying, 'Hey, we can't just sit here and do nothing,’ ” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “I'm not there, but I'm a lot closer than I was.”